Three years on from EU accession - have Czech expectations been met?
It has been three years this week since the Czech Republic joined the European Union. In terms of satisfaction with EU membership, latest opinion polls suggest that Czechs are more sceptical than the average EU citizen. But on the political front, two thirds of the population say they trust legislators in Brussels more than in the Czech Republic. I spoke to David Kral from the European policy think tank Europeum to find out how the country has fared in the last three years:
"There is a convergence with the old member states. Certainly the living standard, which is normally measured by the purchase parity price in terms of GDP per capita, has been rising more rapidly across the region of Central and Eastern Europe compared to the old member states. There is also no doubt that the people in the region can afford more now, which is also given by the fact that many goods are more accessible as a result of us being a member of the internal market, which has made some goods cheaper such as, for instance, electronics or other products like wine and so on."
Are some goods more expensive?
"Yes, I can't tell you exactly which ones but some of them might be more expensive because we had to change the VAT due to EU regulations. Some services, for instance, have become more expensive as well as some basic goods. There is a big debate going on now that real estate may become more expensive because the VAT on construction works will rise after the transitional periods expire."
What about the drawing of EU funds in the next few years? Various NGOs, firms, and so on have not been preparing enough for this and there is this growing fear now that there will be more money sent to Brussels while little will come back to the Czech Republic...
"We are, of course, still in the process of learning and many organisations are learning how to do it. But it's becoming a new national sport. We also have many consulting firms appearing that are to help various organisations to draw money from the EU budget. What is being reproached sometimes is that it is quite a bureaucratic procedure and the flow of money is not very easy but I think one of the Czech qualities is that they can learn how to do it. So, I'm quite confident that it will work out in the end."
Overall, how is the Czech Republic being recognised in Brussels?
"I think that also has to do with the quite complicated political situation that we had in the Czech Republic where the internal problems kind of took up most of the work of the government. So, the government was perhaps unable to stand up to President Klaus as much as it would have liked under different circumstances. I can't say that Mr Klaus has damaged the reputation but because he has been so outspoken about the EU it has sometimes been taken up as the position of the Czech Republic, which was not necessarily the case."